When training presentation skills there are several techniques that we teach that help to excel presentations from average to excellent. One of the most challenging ones for people to get the grips with is using emotions in presenting.
There is a prevailing assumption that business presentations should be factual and logical and persuade with data and numbers. This is true but often leads to presentations that tick only these boxes and end up being so dry and boring that the message is lost and no one is excited about the idea.
Presentations are delivered to persuade the audience of something. To convince them to make a change, make a decision or adopt a new behaviour. Persuasion happens from person to person, most of the time we make decisions based on our emotions and then justify that decision with the facts. So for our presentations to work we need to be able to connect with the audience on an emotional level.
Expressing honest emotions is an act of authenticity and that builds trust with the audience. When we feel like another person is showing us the full truth of who they are we are more likely to listen to them, believe what they say and will agree with them more often.
So if you want to include some emotions in your next presentation, how do you do it?
Connect in with your Feelings
To convey emotions you first need to connect with your feelings around the topic you are delivering the presentation. Reflect on the project, the work you do or your role/company and ask yourself the following questions?
- What about this is important to me?
- What has been my journey so far?
- What have been the significant ups and downs?
- How has this work impacted me?
- How have I grown?
- What has been the experience of my colleagues/partners?
After you have answered these questions see what the key emotions words were that you spoke/wrote down in your responses. If no emotions words were expressed, connect with yourself while answering them for what emotions were aroused in you at the time.
Find the Right Level of Authenticity
To connect with your emotions doesn't mean that you now need to deliver a presentation where you express all of them. Authenticity doesn't mean we reveal everything, we need to have awareness of the audience and what is appropriate. Having said that you can probably get away with more expression than you think. It is OK to tell the client that you experienced stress and frustration along the way, it is not OK to share that you flew off the handle when they changed the brief at the last moment.
Follow these guidelines if you are unsure:
- Don't share if it will offend the audience
- Don't share if it is going to make you get overly emotional during the presentation
- End on a positive note, the audience should be uplifted and feel positive at the end
- Not expressing some emotions is OK, but don't express fake emotions
- If you express negative emotions make sure you transition to something positive shortly after
Share a Related Experience
If you have a dry presentation topic sometimes it can be difficult to connect in with emotions directly related to that topic. There simply might not be strong emotions either way or not ones you are comfortable expressing anyway. Here you can try bringing in a story or message from something related to the topic where there are emotions you can express. How you do this will be different for everyone and it massively depends on the topic and the person. Here are some examples I have seen work well in training:
- Construction presentation - a story about the changing shape of the city through the presenter's eyes and the impact on their life.
- Energy Plant presentation - a story about the environmental impact of climate change on their home country and the link to energy efficiency and more focus by the company on renewables.
- Finance presentation - a personal story about why financial stability and managing cash flow is important.
Think about related topics, metaphors or analogies that can work for your presentation. These will allow you to express emotions safely and make the content more interesting and engaging for the audience.
Find the Words
The words need to meet the moment. There should be a fit between the style of delivery and the nature of your presentation. A TED talk or presentation at an annual conference calls for a more in-depth expression of personal stories and emotions. In these situations, people are looking for something that inspires them. Delivering the same intensity of presentation at your team weekly meeting might get you a few strange looks. You can still deliver a similar message but you can shorten it and lighten up the language. Consider what the main objective of the audience is and decide what is appropriate at that moment.
Practice your Delivery
This is true of all of your presentations but particularly so for the arts that evoke emotions in you, whether positive or negative. Getting the delivery right is critical and that means being careful about the words you select and knowing what is happening to your body language when you deliver it. You want to take the audience on a journey with you and that means that they are feeling emotions with you. Watch some great speakers for how they tell a story, convey emotion and captivate an audience. I recommend Ken Robinson, Tim Urban and Rory Sutherland TED talks for some brilliant examples of this.